Dear parents and students, fellow Americans,
At this unprecedented time, we are sending a message of support to all of you, wherever you are, to wish you strength, comfort and good health during this historic pandemic. We hope that you are staying home, practicing strict social distancing, avoiding public areas and gatherings, frequently washing your hands, disinfecting all surfaces and objects that may be a source of infection and otherwise abiding by the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control. You may also want to monitor the updates on coronavirus from the World Health Organization.
Please remember that according to the latest information from authoritative sources, this coronavirus is spreading invisibly, among people who have no symptoms, who are not coughing, sneezing and who do not have fever. In other words, it is spread by people who look and feel healthy and do not realize that they are contagious. Furthermore, the virus stays active in the air carried by aerosol particles for many hours after the infected people have left the area and it survives on various surfaces for up to 3-5 days. This makes it all the more important to stay at home, avoid all public areas and contact with people as well as take all necessary precautions, such as wearing masks, gloves and protective glasses, if you absolutely must go out.
We stand together with all of you, with our doctors and nurses, our law enforcement personnel, all those people who are in the front lines of the fight against this pandemic. You are all in our hearts and our thoughts. The next few weeks are likely to be challenging but we are confident that together we will get through this crisis and continue educating and inspiring our students. To recall the words of a great American President: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We are sending all of you our wishes of good health and comfort during this difficult time. Stay safe and hopeful!
As we continue our normal summer planning, we would like to share with you some of the precautionary measures we are taking and contingency plans we are putting in place, as well as share some information that will help put this outbreak in perspective.
It is our belief that while the recent virus outbreak should be taken seriously, it is important to evaluate the situation rationally, take all necessary precautions, and not give in to unnecessary panic. We believe that it is much more helpful to focus on the facts and simple preventive measures that need to be taken in order to minimize the risks.
Over the last 30 years in the study abroad industry we have seen many similar challenges and experience shows that they come and go, while life always returns to normal and people continue to travel and study abroad in growing numbers.
Many countries in Europe and around the world are taking decisive measures to contain the recent outbreak, closing down schools and universities, canceling public events and encouraging “social distancing”. We welcome these measures and we remain confident that they will help contain the virus in the near future.
Our colleagues are currently in Europe, evaluating the situation on-site. By now we have personally monitored the situation in Italy, Germany, France and Spain, and everywhere we go we see most people behaving in a calm and dignified manner, taking precautions, such as sanitizing their hands, avoiding crowded areas and refusing to give in to panic.
According to the experts we consulted in Europe and the U.S., and to some reports from international research institutes, the situation is beginning to stabilize in China as the infection rates are beginning to decrease, and most experts expect the situation to be under control as temperatures begin to rise.
We have recently spoken to some European doctors and virologists and consulted some of our contacts in the United States. Based on their recommendations, we have designed the following contingency plans.
1. We will have medical professionals with our groups at each program location who will monitor the health condition of our students and enforce the necessary preventive measures. Some of the simplest ones include sanitizing hands, disinfecting the premises, wearing protective masks if necessary, “social distancing” such as avoiding public transport and large crowds, and others.
2. In the unlikely event that the virus continues to spread, we will implement our contingency plans whereby our students will stay in private residences by themselves, away from other visitors and the tourist crowds. Since we always use private buses and taxis anyway, the use of public transportation (public buses) will easily be minimized. We are preparing these contingency plans at the present time.
3. Again, in the unlikely event that the outbreak continues throughout the spring, we may adjust our travel itineraries and stick to those airports, locations and communities that are removed from the affected areas. To repeat, according to the experts we consulted, it is highly unlikely that the outbreak will continue throughout the summer: most of them expect it to be contained as temperatures rise.
4. We are currently researching some travel and trip cancellation insurance plans that we may recommend to our parents in order to cover them and their children prior to and during the summer program.
Keeping our students under the supervision of a medical professional, in private residences away from central locations and tourist crowds, sanitizing the premises and using precautionary measures such as frequently washing and disinfecting hands, is likely to minimize the risks according to all medical experts.
Having said that, while we believe that the recent outbreak of a new coronavirus is cause for concern, we also believe that it is important to evaluate the situation rationally and calmly, without the unnecessary sense of anxiety or panic. We have seen similar situations many times before: with the SARS outbreak in 2003, the “Swine Flu” outbreak in 2009, the “Bird Flu” outbreak in 2013, the MERS outbreak in 2015, and so on (all of them had much higher fatality rates than this coronavirus).
Here are some facts we were able to research that will help put this recent outbreak in perspective:
1. For people ages 10 – 39 the fatality rate is 0.2%.
2. The overall fatality rate of the coronavirus is about 3-4%, which is lower than that of SARS (10%) or MERS (34%) according to the World Health Organization.
3. Most of the people who contract the virus recover: it is most dangerous for the elderly or people with weakened immune systems or chronic/pre-existing health conditions
4. Approximately 80% of those who contract the virus experience only mild symptoms comparable to a common cold.“It appears that Covid-19 is not as deadly as other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS,” stated Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of the WHO, who added that officials were “starting to get a clearer picture of the outbreak”.
5. The Chinese authorities are now reporting a decrease in new cases since February 15. We are hopeful that the aggressive measures taken by other governments will produce the same results in the near future.
6. In related news from the National Institute of Health, some antiviral drugs appear to have a positive effect when used to treat coronavirus patients.
7. There are some simple steps you can take to minimize the risks during this outbreak. The Center for Disease Control offers the following tips for protecting your household and your family during this outbreak. Joseph Fair, a virologist and epidemiologist who has worked fighting Ebola in Africa, states that facts are our best defense against the coronavirus outbreak.
In summary, we are monitoring the situation very carefully, talking to a number of medical experts in Europe and the U.S., and preparing contingency plans should it become necessary to house our students in private residences away from central locations and large crowds of people, to avoid public transportation, and re-evaluate our travel itineraries as needed. We do not think that this will be the case, but we are making these preparations as a precaution.
We are confident that this virus will be contained before the summer and that we will continue with our usual summer planning. We remain at your disposal for any questions or requests you may have. Please email, call us or “chat” with us at any time.
Warm regards from Europe,
Arthur Kian, Director